There are many reasons why people choose different diets, be it for health, weight loss, environmental reasons, religious purposes or concerns about animal welfare. The perception of dieting has undergone immense transformation throughout the years, and diet strategies have become increasingly popular with the growing variety and availability of foods and dining options.
But are they safe or healthy? Here, we discuss a handful of the most popular diets to see what they’re all about.
In the past, research on vegetarianism predominantly targeted nutritional deficiencies that come with it. However, recently, there has been a fair bit of buzz around the health benefits of meat-free foods.
Plant-based eating has been found to play a role in preventing many chronic illnesses, however, this is only true if it’s done properly. For example, vegetarianism is pretty much useless for your health if your diet consists of mainly junk foods and soft drinks, which are technically still “vegetarian”.
If you plan your diet so it contains a balanced amount of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and with good fats rather than trans or saturated fat, then you might be doing it right. But that still doesn’t mean you can eat excessively without exercise, as lots of plant-based foods are high in calories and can promote weight gain.
If a vegetarian diet scares you, you can go for a Mediterranean diet instead. With this diet, you get to enjoy the disease-fighting benefits of being a vegetarian without completely cutting out meat from your diet; the Mediterranean diet focuses on plant-based foods, but you can still eat meat sparingly.
Veganism is similar to vegetarianism, except that all kinds of animal products such as dairy and honey are also cut off from your diet.
However, with research so far, the benefits of being vegan are pretty much similar to that of being vegetarian. This means that that cutting down even more animal products doesn’t necessarily make you healthier than being a vegetarian. And due to the restricted diet, vegans also need to make sure they get enough vitamins and minerals.
Most of the time, for adults, this can be done through consuming plant-based foods with the targeted nutrient or by taking supplements. However, the debate gets grey when it comes to children. The baby of a vegan breastfeeding mother may have an increased risk of B12 deficiency, a vitamin that is naturally found in animal products. However, on the contrary, the same mother may not carry the toxins and pesticides that a meat-eating mother would in her breastmilk.
It can be quite dangerous a child who isn’t well-informed to go for this type of diet, as there may be a high risk of nutrient deficiency. But if given the appropriate nutrition and carefully monitored, it can be safe.
You may be surprised to know that a ketogenic diet isn’t something new; it has been used to treat epilepsy for about almost 100 years. However, in recent years, it has been mostly perceived as another fad diet for weight loss.
A ketogenic diet is typically rich in proteins and fats, but low in carbohydrates. Cells generally prefer using blood sugar, derived from carbohydrates, as energy. The lack of it would cause them to break down stored fat into ketone bodies, a process called ketosis. Once this happens, your cells will continue to use energy from ketone bodies until they get more blood sugar.
So, is it healthy? There have been studies which show the benefits of a ketogenic diet as a treatment to prevent seizures. The diet has also been reported to improve blood sugar control, which helps type 2 diabetes patients manage their condition.
However, most people these days adopt a ketogenic diet as they believe it promotes weight loss. And that’s where the lines get a bit fuzzy. While research has shown that the diet does lead to rapid weight loss in the short-term, some experts have called out that the highly restrictive nature of the diet would make it unsustainable in the long-term.
Extreme carbohydrate restriction can lead to symptoms such as hunger, fatigue, increased irritability, mood swings, constipation and headaches. In the long term, it can also increase your risk of kidney stones, osteoporosis, gout and nutrient deficiencies. So, instead of going for this kind of diet to accelerate weight loss, you might be better off with something less restrictive and more sustainable.
Gluten is found in grains, such as wheat, barley and rye. This means that foods such as bread, pasta, pizza and cereal are eliminated from your diet.
Going on a gluten-free diet is necessary for those with celiac disease, as consuming gluten would cause negative effects on their health. However, more recently, others have jumped on it believing it can boost energy, cause weight loss, treat autism, or improve overall wellness.
So, what’s the verdict? Well, research has shown little health benefit with going gluten-free. For example, studies have shown that gluten-free diets have no positive effect on heart health, but in contrast, can increase the risk of diabetes. Other experts are adamant that a gluten-free diet doesn’t have positive effects on sports performance or weight loss as well.
If you think you’ve got celiac disease or experience pain and discomfort when consuming gluten foods, do see a doctor to get tested early. Otherwise, it may not be worth restricting yourself with this type of diet when considering your overall health.
The paleo or paleolithic diet revisits how humans ate during the Stone Age, where cavemen could only consume food that they hunted, fished and gathered. This means that the paleo diet consists of mainly lean meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. Overall, it contains a high amount of proteins and fibres, a moderate amount of fats and a low to moderate amount of carbohydrates. It is also low in sodium and refined sugars.
The paleo diet came about because many believed that it can promote weight loss and decrease the risk of diseases. While there are studies that have proven these benefits, experts may argue that excluding large food categories may increase the risk of nutrient deficiencies. Further, it takes a lot of time, money, commitment and self-control to prepare this particular diet, which may not be sustainable in the long run.
The bottom line is that every diet has its pros and cons, and may not be for everyone. But before you jump on it, know exactly what you’re getting to and carefully monitor your nutritional intake to avoid nutrient deficiencies. Some of these diets are pretty extreme, so you may be better off just having a healthy and balanced diet with regular exercise.